Occasionally, no matter how confident you are in your general skills with manipulating new devices or environments, sometimes your intuition is not enough and you must open up to swallow a mouthful of humble pie. While this is not something I particularly enjoy, two things I do enjoy is aviation and Google Earth. I am neither a pilot nor a cartographer but both of these concepts have, at different points in my life, occupied my attention with fascination and adventure. So, when I found out about Xavier Tassin's amazing flight simulator developed to be used with Google Earth, I strapped on my virtual flight goggles and ventured off into the clear blue skies of my computer monitor.
First, a primer: This was developed for Google Earth, with heavy emphasis on the Earth part. You can fly various planes virtually everywhere on the planet as well as take off from/land on over 30,000 runways throughout the world. The flight simulator works with the Google Earth plug-in so you don't even really have to download anything other than that.
Perhaps one of those neatest aspects of using GEFS is that you'll see all of the other users currently zipping around in their planes in real-time. Depending on their skills compared to your own, this can be a great source of either pride or humility. If airplanes aren't really your thing, you can take a go with helicopters and hot air balloons (called Major Tom in the GEFS).
Anyways, as I harnessed myself into my office chair and and prepared for lift-off in my mustard-hued baron, the simulator was quick to remind me that, no, I am not a pilot and so this isn't going to be like riding a bike. If things start out encouraging when you start up the simulator, it's likely because you haven't figured out how to move yet. Not moving makes you look like you know what you're doing: the plane is level, you're not crashing, everything's under control.
This flight simulator is a great reminder to always read the directions first before trying something new. I didn't read the directions, so it literally took me seven minutes to figure out that I have to turn on the plane's engine in order to make it go. First goal: don't be an idiot. Some rules that apply on Real Earth also apply on Google Earth.
Another real-life that applies: gravity. This is not the DCU and you are not a caped crusader defying the laws of physics. You have to master the controls just like you would in real life in order to succeed here. And the controls, well... let's just say that knowing how the controls work on a real plane really help. I am not a pilot and the closest I've ever come to one was coming in second in a paper airplane-making competition when I was in elementary school. As you can see, the results of that experience did not lend any sagacious assistance for this flight simulator.
As things are, I ended up hitting the reset button a lot in order to eventually figure out how to get the plane off the ground. Well, to get it off the ground in order to do more than merely flip it over. Finally, I found a short-cut in the location menu: I can choose different locations and then start my flight already up in the sky. This seemed easier, so I gave it a go. After all, what is it you always hear, the most dangerous parts of air travel are the take-off and the landing?
Not true! Well, at least it's not if I'm your pilot. Starting out in mid-air didn't work out so well for me, as you can see here in the simulation I chose for Mount Everest in Nepal. At least it looks pretty when you're falling to Earth and crashing into mountains
So I can't fly a plane with any more finesse than Wile E. Coyote, but I gave it one more chance and changed places yet again. In the next simulation, I gave in to superstition and decided to fly over my hometown in northeastern Kentucky. I managed to stay up in the air a little bit longer, although I'm not sure I was actually in control as the plane behaved less like a plane and more like a moth that just flew through a cloud of opium smoke. Occasionally, it did steady out and so I managed to take this picture that, were I to simply lie to you and tell you I was a master of the stratosphere, would obviously demonstrate my awesome flying talents.
But that would be a deceit of unprecedented limit, and I'm a big fan of full disclosure. So, yes, I am a horrible pilot. All in all, though, I'm not giving up on my abilities to achieve even a small level of competency with Google Earth Flight Simulator. This is a wonderful application of the Google Earth imagery and promises to not only be a lot of fun but an ingenius way to explore Google Earth's maps. And since I have no idea when my next vacation might be, or even where I might go, this is as good as it gets for me, so I'm going to earn my stripes with this simulator come hell or high water.[Via Google Earth Blog.]